The United States of America has always had a tangled and romantic history with guns, and as the nation owning more guns than any other country in the world, some Americans view gun ownership and violence as a grave social danger. Several organizations and movements have formed in the last two centuries with the hopes of regulating the availability of firearms and limiting the freedom to own firearms. The ultimate goal then and now is to reduce crimes and accidents that involve guns. However, the entanglements of gun rights and organizations have put up a strong fight to hold on to their weapons.
In early America, guns were necessary for food and protection. With land unclaimed buy any lord or noble, hunting became an important source of food for early settlers. As the settlers began to embrace a more rural lifestyle, guns became a tool of everyday life in order to protect livestock, crops, and the family unit – especially from the psychological threat of Indians.
As America expanded, the South developed a non-utilitarian enjoyment of firearms for sport and target shooting. Every boy was taught to shoot. Soon enough, lighter and more powerful rifles and revolvers developed. To Americans, guns were essential to insure protection of local militias and the right to revolution. However, guns were also recreational and competitive. In 1871, the National Rifle Association formed to “promote and encourage rifle shooting on a scientific basis.”
Following World War I, the transition to urbanization begins the association of guns with tragedy and death rather than sport. Entering the twentieth century, the rise of organized crime and the spirit of the prohibition led to a more intense push towards gun control and regulation. New York City was the first American city to see gun control regulation, and the Sullivan Act forced citizens to have a permit to purchase and own a firearm.
With so little media coverage, there was little opposition from gun manufacturers and dealers. Although gun deaths stabilized, effectiveness was difficult to prove. The legislation followed an assassination attempt on the mayor of the city, William Gaynor, and this series of events foreshadowed a future of assassinations having the emotional impact to hinder gun crime. Signed into law in May of 1911, legislation regarding gun control did not pick up again for two decades.
The motivation of early gun control movements were focused on helping the citizen, hurting the criminal. However, a majority of Americans still held the opinion that for ordinary, law abiding citizens, a pistol or revolver is a necessity to protection of himself and his family.
This did not hinder the activists, and their actions led to the cease of the sale of guns and rifles by Sears Roebuck department store in 1924. Boycotts and economic tools will be utilized in the modern fight as REI, Walmart, and Dick’s Sporting Goods respond to pressure by changing their policies on gun sales.
The 1930’s saw the adoption of the first two significant gun control laws on the federal level: the National Firearms Act in 1934 and the Federal Firearms Act in 1938. Early versions of these laws were deemed highly controversial, and the NRA actively condemned the potential legislation. As the final forms of the laws evolved, the NRA backed off, for they did not affect the rights of the honest citizen to own rifles, pistols, and shotguns. This was the first instance of National Rifle Association’s involvement in legislation.
The gun control movement slowed from 1940 to 1960 due to the events of World War II, the Korean War, and the start of the Cold War. Americans found the obstruction of rights, especially to own firearms, undesirable during a time of crisis. Additionally, witnessing the increase of strict gun control laws in Europe made Americans grip their weapons more tightly. For example, strict gun control laws in the United Kingdom left the country unarmed during the outbreak of World War II.
When the potential for German invasion rose, many of the Home Guardsmen were only armed with the same “Brown Bess” muskets carried in the American Revolution almost two hundred years prior. In other parts of Europe, Americans saw citizens being forced to surrender their guns to the invading Nazis.
In the end of the fifties, a Gallup poll in August of 1959 showed that 75% of the population and 65% of gun owners would favor a law requiring a permit for a person to buy any gun. A month later, another poll showed that 59% of all persons interviewed favored a total ban on handguns, except for police use. Yet, the same poll showed that 49% of the respondents had a gun in their home. The only major reason suggested by the press in the 1950s for such ~high anti-gun sentiment is a concern over the eruption of violence over the civil rights issue in the south.
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